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If Spurs win, it is LeBron’s legacy that will take biggest hit

Jun 18, 2013, 12:00 PM EDT

Miami Heat v San Antonio Spurs - Game 5 Getty Images

Only LeBron James could average 21.6 points, 10.8 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 2.2 steals a game through the NBA Finals and look like he is being passive and not doing enough.

He has for much of the NBA Finals looked like the physically best player on the floor but one that couldn’t impose his will on the game for any extended period of time. It’s true of LeBron and the Heat as a team.

If the Spurs win Game 6 Tuesday night — they are up 3-2 and you know they are going to come out with a great game plan and exploit every Heat mistake — it will signal a shift in the conversation about LeBron’s ultimately legacy.

After last year’s Finals we started to wonder if he would live up to his potential, if LeBron would end up in the Magic, MJ, Kareem “greatest of all time” tier. Lose and will appear to be more in the Wilt Chamberlain tier — the greatest physical specimen of his day, a guy ahead of his time, who could not get his team to beat the best teams of his era.

LeBron is 28, in the prime of his career, it is too early to say what we will think of him a decade from now. It’s a world of instant analysis (this blog is certainly part of that) but some things take time to fully come into focus. Legacy is one of those things.

But another loss, making LeBron 1-3 in the NBA Finals, starts to change the conversation.

“I have to come up big, for sure, in Game 6,” LeBron said after Game 5. “Me being one of the leaders of this team, I do put a lot of pressure on myself to force a Game 7, and I look forward to the challenge. We have to worry about Game 6 and going back home, being confident about our game, being confident about getting a win, which we are.”

You could explain away LeBron’s first loss in the NBA Finals — he single-handedly carried an inferior Cavaliers team to the big stage, only to fall to a much better Spurs team. Even the 2011 Heat you can say was a great team still figuring out who it was. Those Heat were learning to play together and had a thin bench. Last season’s NBA Finals win, where LeBron owned games late, seemed to suggest LeBron and the Heat had figured it out.

But all season he — and Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, and all the Heat —coasted for long stretches. After cruising through two rounds of the playoffs, the Heat have been intermittently dominant and pedestrian, unable to impose their will on games for a full 48 minutes. Particularly in the Finals the counterpunching Spurs have taken advantage of Heat mistakes and withstood almost every Heat run. The Spurs have been the more consistent, and better, team.

The pressure of legacy in Game 6 is not on the Spurs — they already go down as one of the greats of their era — it is on the Heat. Miami doesn’t have the excuses of not knowing how to play together or a thin bench anymore.

The pressure is self-imposed; LeBron went public with “not two, not three, not four” and set the bar high.

Now he has to reach it or get called out for it.

  1. bballhistorian - Jun 18, 2013 at 3:13 PM

    All LeBron haters see is his missed shots and “The Decision”.

    If he held a normal press conference and stated he was leaving to Miami, would be hated any less?

    • jgillmeister - Jun 18, 2013 at 4:28 PM

      Absolutely! He could also insist that the press to kill the “King James” nickname. It smacks of hubris. You let your actions show your worth, not a moniker

      • bballhistorian - Jun 18, 2013 at 4:47 PM

        So now it’s the “king james” monkier that’s doing him in. It’s always something…

  2. cwilson6843 - Jun 18, 2013 at 3:56 PM

    Yall are way too literal. He never said he was going to win 7 rings. He said he WANTS to win 7 rings. Whats wrong with that? Set your goals high. Yall don’t do that, which explains why most of you probably still work fast food for minimum wage

    • daviddmsvcp - Jun 18, 2013 at 4:04 PM

      good basketball player

    • jgillmeister - Jun 18, 2013 at 4:29 PM

      No, he said the 3 amigos were going to WIN 7

      • bballhistorian - Jun 18, 2013 at 5:05 PM

        …and you believe that?

      • gofinsgoheatfloria - Jun 21, 2013 at 8:33 AM

        Eric Reid had asked whether LeBron was coming to Miami to win just one championship. That’s what set off the “not…” series, which had Dwayne laughing by the time LeBron broke it off. LeBron went on to say that there was no reason the Heat couldn’t win multiple championships if they took care of business. Let’s hold LeBron accountable for that, which he said on his own, not for his failure to spot the trap that Reid’s question had laid (intentionally or not – I’m inclined to think the latter).

  3. hatesycophants - Jun 18, 2013 at 4:15 PM

    Bill Russell is the greatest professional basketball player ever.

    • miguel3557 - Jun 19, 2013 at 4:21 PM

      Bill Russell won more championships than any other player–11. He was highly talented in many respects–he played flawless defense, was an incredibly gifted rebounder, especially for a man who was only 6’9″ tall (he grabbed 35–yup, 35–rebounds while playing against Wilt in Game 7 of the 1960 championship series!), was a great passer, but he wasn’t a great offensive player. Please recall–Bill didn’t win those 11 championships alone; his Celtic teams were great clubs, filled with clutch shooting guard play for over a decade.

      Jordan played a different position that showcased more basketball skills than Russell had. And 6 championships in 6 championship series is nothing to sneeze about. Had Jordan played with Bosh and a backcourt consisting of Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman, with K.C. Jones and Sam Jones coming off the bench, he may have gotten to 11 championship games too.

      Michael Jordan is widely acclaimed as the greatest basketball player ever for many reasons.

  4. mannyfresh209 - Jun 18, 2013 at 4:50 PM

    Since when have the Spurs been consistent in this series? In their two losses, they lost by double digits in each….. I don’t understand the logic lol

    • redbaronx - Jun 18, 2013 at 4:57 PM

      @mannyfresh209 – Evidently you weren’t paying attention then. The Spurs were neck and neck with the Heat in those losses until the mid/end of the third periods. The Spurs don’t score in bunches like the Heat, and what got them in trouble was not getting back on fast breaks. Pop has been hammering away at the message that they have to get back in order to win and close the lanes in the key. The Spurs are getting this as the series goes on. Doesn’t bode well for the Heat.

      • mannyfresh209 - Jun 18, 2013 at 5:02 PM

        They’re getting what? They just got blown out 2 games ago… And the Heat haven’t been getting a ton of fastbreak points. They’ve won when they’ve gotten turnovers and limited the 3-point barrage.

      • redbaronx - Jun 18, 2013 at 5:28 PM

        Where do you think the Heat have gotten those spurts? Fastbreaks on turnovers! The Spurs getting blown out in the third/fourth quarter of game 4 by having a bunch of turnovers is not typical. Again, game 2 and game 4 got out of hand, but Popovich keeps hammering the point home, and that’s what you saw in game 5 with the Spurs getting back and clogging the lanes. The Heat settled for outside shots.

        Conversely the Heat haven’t limited the Spurs 3’s at all in any of the games (See Green’s shooting in all 6 games).

      • sportsfan18 - Jun 18, 2013 at 5:59 PM

        redbaronx. You said “where do you think the Heat have gotten those spurts? Fastbreaks on turnovers!”

        Points off turnovers by game

        Game 1
        Heat 15 Spurs 8

        Game 2
        Heat 2 Spurs 19

        Game 3
        Heat 13 Spurs 17

        Game 4
        Heat 8 Spurs 23

        Game 5
        Heat 16 Spurs 20

        Total fast break points per team through first five games.

        Heat

      • sportsfan18 - Jun 18, 2013 at 5:59 PM

        redbaronx. You said “where do you think the Heat have gotten those spurts? Fastbreaks on turnovers!”

        Points off turnovers by game

        Game 1
        Heat 15 Spurs 8

        Game 2
        Heat 2 Spurs 19

        Game 3
        Heat 13 Spurs 17

        Game 4
        Heat 8 Spurs 23

        Game 5
        Heat 16 Spurs 20

        Total fast break points per team through first five games.

        Heat

      • redbaronx - Jun 18, 2013 at 6:17 PM

        @sportsfan18 – See my response to your other post. The stats don’t tell the whole story here and it is misleading. Game 4 the Heat didn’t settle for shots and they forced the issue inside. Plus the Spurs turned the ball over which goes to my comment about turnovers and counters. The stat for game 4 is eight fast breaks for the Heat. If you actually watched the game you would know how misleading that stat was.

      • sportsfan18 - Jun 18, 2013 at 6:00 PM

        total fast break points through first five games

        Heat 54

        Spurs 87

        sorry for the multiple post

      • redbaronx - Jun 18, 2013 at 6:11 PM

        @sportsfan18 – I never said that the Heat have been fast breaking more then the Spurs. All I said was that Pop has been reinforcing that they can’t allow turnovers and fast breaks. The reason being is that LeBron and Wade are unstoppable in the open court.

        If the Spurs are going to win, they’re going to have to keep getting back and clogging the lanes like they did in games 3 and 5. The Heat aren’t going to win in the half-court. Pop’s strategy is make the Heat slow down in the half-court, make the Heat hit outside shots, and counter with Parkers speed to get the Heat defense off balance. Your point about the imbalance reinforces what I just said. That is EXACTLY why the Spurs are leading 3-2.

      • mannyfresh209 - Jun 18, 2013 at 7:27 PM

        You realize that in the Heat’s 2 wins, they got a combined total of 10 fast break points? LOL give me a break with that argument that their fastbreak points are what’s getting them W’s.

        And the Heat have absolutely had games where they’ve limited the 3’s. In Game 3, the Spurs MADE 16 3’s. In Game 4 they TOOK 16 3’s the entire game. Stop itttt

      • redbaronx - Jun 20, 2013 at 9:58 AM

        Again….you’re looking at stats, not the game. Anyone watching knows that the Heat are dangerous in the open court and that has been job #1 for the Spurs to slow them down. That’s why it’s working…

        #2 is to clog up the lanes. When the Heat have won, they’re getting into the paint.

      • mannyfresh209 - Jun 18, 2013 at 7:33 PM

        @redbaronx “See my response to your other post. The stats don’t tell the whole story here and it is misleading. Game 4 the Heat didn’t settle for shots and they forced the issue inside. Plus the Spurs turned the ball over which goes to my comment about turnovers and counters. The stat for game 4 is eight fast breaks for the Heat. If you actually watched the game you would know how misleading that stat was.”

        It’s not misleading at all….turnovers don’t translate to fast break points in every situation. turnovers ULTIMATELY turn in to less points scored by the other team. if the heat force san antonio to turn the ball over at an above average clip, and if they limit the 3 point ATTEMPTS (thus limiting the 3 pointers MADE), they stand a great chance at repeating as champs.

        You claiming the fastbreak is what they need to win is COMPLETELY false, as evidenced by sportsfan18’s stats that in their 2 wins they scored only 2 and 8 points in fastbreak, respectively.

      • redbaronx - Jun 20, 2013 at 10:00 AM

        Try watching the game…..I love fans that look at stat sheets and know ZIPPO about the game.

        Both teams are great pushing the ball in the open court. SA has made a concerted effort to stop the Heat, and if you don’t get that is part of the Spurs success, then I can’t help you. End of discussion.

  5. mannyfresh209 - Jun 18, 2013 at 4:58 PM

    LMAO God I love how people say “LeBron complains too much! MJ never did”

    You obviously never watched any of the superstars play, in ANY era. They ALL complained. STOP ITTTT

  6. mannyfresh209 - Jun 18, 2013 at 5:18 PM

    “Jordan would barrel down the Bad Boys’ defense, get roughed up and keep on playing!”

    Playa stop watching YouTube highlights of Jordan’s career. That man was the ultimate competitor, but also cried for fouls more than anybody I can remember. Kobe Bryant also comes to mind. Not to mention, these dudes literally get fouled on almost every occasion where they “cry” to get the fouls called. Dwight Howard, I feel sorry for you man.

  7. beastieboy81 - Jun 18, 2013 at 5:26 PM

    What legacy are you fools talking about? You must mean his televised high-school games? Or getting swept in 2007? Or announcing your departure from Cleveland on an hour long special? Simply having a good career doesn’t necessarily mean you are leaving behind a legacy. Stop talking out of your arse!

    And all you LeBron straddlers…You can’t call yourself the King, or allow the media to, if you’ve yet to conquer much. Mugsy Bogues and Spud Webb were more dominant in the paint, lol. J/K

    Seriously though, the media is partly to blame…This wack-arse article being one of ‘em. Some guys aren’t built for all the hype you force on them, Kwame Brown being an example. How about we let guys play out their career before we start depicting how fabulous they are. Cause if IFS, ANDS, or BUTS carried any weight, we’d all be millionaires right now. Get off the BS, guys.

  8. jimeejohnson - Jun 18, 2013 at 7:17 PM

    Somewhere, someone said LeBron might be more like Wilt Chamberlain than Michael Jordan since Wilt was so dominant but not a winner of many championships. That’s not the worst legacy in the world to have. I’m not a Heat or Spurs fan, but I am entertained by the two best teams in the world and am happy to watch LeBron do his thing, win or lose. Anybody who saw Michael Jordan knows he was, and probably always will be, the best ever.

    • miguel3557 - Jun 19, 2013 at 3:44 PM

      jimmee,

      And Game 6 proved Jordan’s superiority over James. LeBron James had a triple double in Game 6 and played superb defense against Tony Parker for much of the game. But Jordan never turned the ball over twice in the last two or three minutes of a pressure-packed championship game and then pouted about it. Jordan would have made the three-pointer that James missed before Bosh rebounded the ball and passed it to Allen for the game-tying shot. In his 10th season, Jordan was supremely confident in his jump shot; it was obvious that, in his 10th season, James didn’t really trust his jump shot in the 4th quarter, so he forced himself into the paint, where he found a way to score.

      In short, LeBron James is a very gifted basketball player who has certainly grown in many ways, and his defense during this series has been stunning(the same player shut down Tony Parker and cleanly blocked Splitter’s attempted slam and Duncan’s rolling hook at the rim!), but he doesn’t have the consistently deadly jump shot of a great outside shooter, which is what distinguishes him from Jordan. Nor does James have Jordan’s unshakeable confidence or his indomitable will to win. And, finally, James won’t wind up winning 6 titles in 6 title series, which is probably a reflection of Jordan’s ultra-competitiveness.

  9. iowahbr - Jun 18, 2013 at 7:53 PM

    Not a LeBron fan because of the announcement and his style of play but he shouldn’t take most of the blame of they don’t win as they wouldn’t be anywhere close to the finals without him. B-ball in the NBA is a 7 to 8 man team event and all the Heat will need to check the mirror if they lose to the Spurs but LeBron is still the best b-ball player on the planet right now.

    • hatesycophants - Jun 18, 2013 at 10:47 PM

      What problem do you have with his “style”of play?

      Code.

  10. wkb2texans - Jun 18, 2013 at 8:16 PM

    LeBron’s supremely talented … in some ways a real freak of nature. As someone who has been close to sports at all levels for more than 20 years I can tell you that the missing factor with James is that he is not mentally tough. When things aren’t going well or as planned, he often mails it in. You can see his effort wane as he struggles. You never saw Jordan, Bird, Magic or the other greats take a break … coast. They all fought tooth and nail regardless of how things were going. That’s why all of them are champions. Yes, LeBron has the skills and sheer talent … the question is, how much heart does he have?

  11. losanginsight - Jun 18, 2013 at 10:27 PM

    Lbjs legacy will be 1-3 in The Finals. Please,no more comparisons to MJ or Kobe. Not 3 not 4 not 5 not 6..not even 2.

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